How homeless experiences helped originator realize value of homeownership

Turbulent times paved the way for current expertise

How homeless experiences helped originator realize value of homeownership

When it comes to appreciating both the value of homeownership and the mountain many Americans climb to attain it, few mortgage professionals are better placed than Joe Almeida (pictured top).

The senior loan originator and chief executive officer at Redefine Loans faced a fraught and often traumatic journey toward realizing the dream of owning a property, enduring homelessness and a series of personal crises before finally fulfilling that transformational aspiration.

Now based in Florida, the executive arrived in the United States in 1999 with nothing but a few hundred dollars in his pocket and a successful application to culinary school – and experienced his first bout of homelessness in 2002 when he and his sister, who was already based in the US, saw an apartment lease fall through at short notice after their prior lease elsewhere had already expired.

With nowhere else to go, they took to sleeping in their car before finding refuge in janitorial closets at a church when its pastor was alerted to their plight.

Happily, six or seven weeks later they were able to return to renting – and Almeida to culinary school. But upon moving to Broward County in 2004, an unfortunate experience subletting an apartment from a deceitful renter led to her being evicted, and the two siblings once again searching for a place to live.

To Almeida, the recollection is still vivid. “I remember the owner of the apartment, together with the police, knocking on the door,” he said. “We [said] we’re the roommates – we rent [the apartment] with the lady. And he said, ‘Listen – the lady hasn’t paid the rent for four months.’”

Once again, sleeping in their car became a last resort for Almeida and his sister. “I remember driving to Deerfield Beach on Hillsboro Boulevard and waiting at the beach,” he said. “You can’t leave the car, otherwise they’ll tow it. So we would take turns, my sister walking on the beach and I’m staying in the car and vice versa.”

Again, a church pastor came to their aid, providing them with a spare room – and that’s when the pair decided to take their first tentative steps toward homeownership, going through the “very difficult” process of applying for government HUD programs on foreclosed properties.

After 60 days, they were able to purchase a condo in the same building that they had previously been evicted from, with their fortunes happily taking a turn for the better in the months and years after.

“I graduated from culinary school and then I got married,” Almeida says of his next steps and introduction to the mortgage sector. “My wife was already working in the mortgage industry as a processor and after my son was born, I decided to quit culinary school. I started to become a financial coach, a youth pastor in the church.”

That job entailed teaching members how to plan and put together a budget – not just youths, but their family and parents. It was the catalyst for a suggestion by Almeida’s wife that he become a loan officer, a step he was initially reluctant to take.

“I was like, ‘No, I have to do this out of passion. I don’t want to make money because of this,’” he said. “But in 2017, I said, ‘You know what – I’m going to do it.’ So I took my license in 2018, passed it on the first time, and then thought, ‘What is the purpose of doing this? I don’t have to do this just for money.’”

Finding a passion and purpose in mortgages

The realization suddenly dawned on Almeida that his own grueling experience of the journey toward homeownership in the US – one that had included catastrophe and homelessness – made him uniquely placed to recognize how valuable, and life-changing, it can be for homebuyers.

“That’s when I realized that [because of] the fact that I’ve been homeless twice, every time I was speaking to people about ways to buy a home, I was doing that out of purpose,” he said. “I was doing that out of passion.”

In 2020, he opened his own brokerage, with purchase business and first-time homebuyers constituting a sizable slice of his clients, and memories of those difficult times helping spur him forward.

“The majority of up-and-coming communities, people that are in poverty, need the information to go to the next level and owning a home, for the majority, is their retirement,” he said. “It’s their everyday.

“I think I can relate to those people, and they see in the team, and in myself, not somebody that is just trying to make a buck. It’s somebody that can share an experience of what it takes to be successful, to be able to buy your own place. To come from living in a janitorial closet in a church or sleeping out of cars and be able to share: ‘Hey, I’ve been in your shoes. I know how difficult it is. I know what it is to need help.’”

AIME assistance essential to success

Crucial to Almeida’s growth as a mortgage professional has been the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME), which he credited with helping shape his approach and providing invaluable guidance throughout his journey in the industry.

“I think what makes AIME so different for me is that I was able to see myself in other people, and connect with people that are willing to do this [for the right] purpose as well,” he said. “It’s a way to connect with other people that have similar stories to mind, and be able to collaborate and make each other better.

“I’m very, very thankful for AIME, for the friendships that I created over there, for the people. There were so many times that I didn’t know what to do, asking questions – and the people were [gladly] sharing information with me. It’s all about, ‘Let me help you be the best.’”

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